BBC documentary delves into Murdoch’s real-life Succession battle

Viewers watching a ‘fascinating’ new BBC documentary on global media mogul Rupert Murdoch have compared it to hit HBO television series Succession – saying the bitter war that ensued in the Murdoch family feels like a real-life version of the recent popular series. 

BBC2’s The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty explores how Rupert, now 89 and married to Jerry Hall, came from humble beginnings and has gone on to become one of the most influential figures in the world’s media industry.  

The three-part series, the first episode of which aired on BBC2 on Tuesday, details how children Lachlan, James and Elisabeth, fiercely fought for control of the conglomerate in the late 90s, before their father’s shock decision to remain head of the empire. 

Viewers noted the similarities between the documentary and the HBO series Succession, which follows the lives of the Roy family as they plot the future of their entertainment empire as their ageing father, Logan Roy, played by Brian Cox, starts to slow down.  

A family divided: BBC2's The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty, which aired on BBC2 on Tuesday, detailed how Rupert Murdoch's children Lachlan (far right)  James (far left)  and Elisabeth (middle), fought for control of the conglomerate when it looked like their father might retire in the 90s

A family divided: BBC2's The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty, which aired on BBC2 on Tuesday, detailed how Rupert Murdoch's children Lachlan (far right)  James (far left)  and Elisabeth (middle), fought for control of the conglomerate when it looked like their father might retire in the 90s

A family divided: BBC2’s The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty, which aired on BBC2 on Tuesday, detailed how Rupert Murdoch’s children Lachlan (far right)  James (far left)  and Elisabeth (middle), fought for control of the conglomerate when it looked like their father might retire in the 90s

HBO series Succession follows the lives of the Roy family as they plot the future of their entertainment empire as their ageing father, Logan Roy, played by Brian Cox (pictured top left), starts to slow down

HBO series Succession follows the lives of the Roy family as they plot the future of their entertainment empire as their ageing father, Logan Roy, played by Brian Cox (pictured top left), starts to slow down

HBO series Succession follows the lives of the Roy family as they plot the future of their entertainment empire as their ageing father, Logan Roy, played by Brian Cox (pictured top left), starts to slow down

Rupert (pictured), 89, came from humble beginnings to become one of the most influential figures in the media industry - but viewers couldn't help compare the documentary to HBO series Succession

Rupert (pictured), 89, came from humble beginnings to become one of the most influential figures in the media industry - but viewers couldn't help compare the documentary to HBO series Succession

Rupert (pictured), 89, came from humble beginnings to become one of the most influential figures in the media industry – but viewers couldn’t help compare the documentary to HBO series Succession

The BBC’s documentary explores how ‘natural favourite’ Elisabeth, charming’ Lachlan and ‘the brains’ of the family, James, all vied for the loftiest position in their father’s dynasty. 

The first episode of the series, The Kingmaker, begins in July 1995, when the mogul hosted a News Corporation summit in Australia on the family’s private Hayman Island retreat. 

JUST HOW SIMILAR IS HB0 SERIES SUCCESSION TO THE LIVES OF THE MURDOCH CLAN? 

It doesn’t take a sleuth to work out there are some clear parallels between the character of entrepreneurial Scot Logan Roy (Brian Cox) in Succession and Rupert Murdoch. 

For a start, both the fictional and real-life media moguls have a penchant for getting spliced, and then divorced. 

While Logan has had three wives, Murdoch has been married four times, including to his latest wife Jerry Hall, whom he wed four years ago. 

Rupert, is that you? Logan Roy (Brian Cox) plays a Scottish media mogul whose four children are warring over his empire in hit HBO series Succession

Rupert, is that you? Logan Roy (Brian Cox) plays a Scottish media mogul whose four children are warring over his empire in hit HBO series Succession

Rupert, is that you? Logan Roy (Brian Cox) plays a Scottish media mogul whose four children are warring over his empire in hit HBO series Succession

Murdoch has six children: Prudence, 62, Elisabeth, 51, Lachlan, 48, and James, 47, plus Grace and Chloe, daughters from his marriage to Wendi Deng, who are 19 and 17 respectively.

Meanwhile, Roy has a brood of four kids – Connor, Kendall, Shiv and Roman.  

Perhaps the biggest potential steal when it comes to Succession’s plot is that both men are preparing to hand over their huge media companies to just one offspring, a son.

Currently Lachlan Murdoch, 47, is co-chairman of News Corp and CEO of the Fox Corporation while his younger brother James and older sister Elisabeth now both operate their own private ventures. 

Succession’s creator Jesse Armstrong has been opaque about the show’s purported inspiration, telling Variety magazine: ‘There are loads of succession stories to draw on. 

‘We wanted to draw on all the good, rich stories there are about succession and about media and high politics.’

While Succession creator Jesse Armstrong has said there is no explicit inspiration for the hit show's plot, he did namecheck the Murdochs last year in a New York Times interview

While Succession creator Jesse Armstrong has said there is no explicit inspiration for the hit show's plot, he did namecheck the Murdochs last year in a New York Times interview

Armstrong said: 'The amazing thing about this stuff is that it’s everywhere. Sumner Redstone’s family. The Mercers. The Murdochs. Conrad Black'.

Armstrong said: 'The amazing thing about this stuff is that it’s everywhere. Sumner Redstone’s family. The Mercers. The Murdochs. Conrad Black'.

While Succession creator Jesse Armstrong has said there is no explicit inspiration for the hit show’s plot, he did namecheck them, telling the New York Times last year: ‘The amazing thing about this stuff is that it’s everywhere. Sumner Redstone’s family. The Mercers. The Murdochs. Conrad Black’.

Armstrong did later namecheck the Murdochs though in a New York Times interview, saying: ‘The amazing thing about this stuff is that it’s everywhere. Sumner Redstone’s family. The Mercers. The Murdochs. Conrad Black. 

Sometimes people have said, “It’s really about these people, isn’t it? It’s based on them”. And: No. We read widely and we do take elements of stuff.

‘Hopefully, if you’re writing in the right area, you end up hitting reality.’ 

The first season of the HBO series opens with Roy, preparing to retire from his media empire Waystar Roco, with his son Kendall expected to be named successor. 

However, the clan is left reeling when Logan announces he’s going to stay on because he doesn’t feel Kendall is ready for the responsibility due to his past battles with drugs, even though he’s now sober.

Hours after the shock announcement, Logan suffers a brain aneurysm and is rushed to hospital and while he’s in a coma, Kendall takes over. Logan recovers and when he takes the reins again, he starts promoting anyone but Kendall to important positions.

His son Roman becomes head of studio, and Tom – the fiancé of his daughter Siobhan – is made head of parks.

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With speculation of Murdoch’s retirement rife, Elisabeth, Lachlan and James are all present at the retreat, which saw the likes of Tony Blair and Piers Morgan in attendance.

On social media, many watching admitted they were utterly gripped with the first installment, with one saying: ‘So far, so Succession’. 

Andrew Neil, who served as editor of The Sunday Times from 1983 to 1994, appears in the first episode highlighting just how much passing over the business to one of his offspring matters, saying: ‘Family has always been very important to Rupert Murdoch, particularly from the point of view of forming a dynasty. 

‘He had always wanted at least one of his children to take over from him. He used to like to play them off against each other, to see how they would survive.’  

The documentary portrays Elisabeth, now 51, as the ‘natural favourite’ to succeed her father, as a ‘smart and humble executive’, who the media mogul has often described as being most similar to him.

Meanwhile, at the age of 25, ‘charming’ Lachlan who was known as ‘the Prince’ had just been appointed Deputy CEO of News Limited, one of Australia’s largest media conglomerates. 

The documentary portrays Elisabeth, now 51, as the 'natural favourite' to succeed her father, as a 'smart and humble executive'. Father and daughter are pictured in 2005

The documentary portrays Elisabeth, now 51, as the 'natural favourite' to succeed her father, as a 'smart and humble executive'. Father and daughter are pictured in 2005

The documentary portrays Elisabeth, now 51, as the ‘natural favourite’ to succeed her father, as a ‘smart and humble executive’. Father and daughter are pictured in 2005 

The documentary claims the media mogul has often described Elisabeth as being most similar to him

The documentary claims the media mogul has often described Elisabeth as being most similar to him

The documentary claims the media mogul has often described Elisabeth as being most similar to him

Many viewers couldn’t get the Succession series out of their minds while watching, with some pointing out even the theme tune was similar. 

@n5cyclist wrote: ‘Is it me or does the BBC #Murdoch documentary have a Succession-esque theme song? #justsaying’. 

@MrNeilB added: ‘Can’t watch this #murdoch thing without thinking of #succession’. 

Also seen in the programme is Sarah Ellison, a reporter for The Washington Post and former special correspondent for Vanity Fair. Of Murdoch’s brood, she says: ‘I’ve met all the kids, Elisabeth is the child that Rupert has told people is the most like him.’ 

She later added: ‘Elisabeth is really such an interesting and humble, smart executive.’

‘Lachlan is someone who wants his father’s approval, he spent a lot of time modelling himself after his father, he was known as the Prince.’ 

James was running rap label Rawkus Records, a dominant label in the underground hip-hop scene established by pals Brian Brater and Jarret Myer, with his father’s financial backing.  

THE THREE SUCCESSORS TO THE MURDOCH THRONE…  

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, 89, currently married to Jerry Hall, has six children by three different women, with their ages ranging from 62 (his eldest daughter Prudence Murdoch by first wife, Patricia Booker) down to 17 (Chloe, Murdoch’s youngest child with ex-wife Wendi Deng). 

However, the obvious successors to his media throne – or at the least the ones who have made the biggest play for it so far – are his middle-born children, Elisabeth, 51, Lachlan, 48, and James, 47…with many predicting that Lachlan is the ‘golden child’ who eventually head up the entire global business.  

Will one of the middle three succeed Rupert? The new BBC documentary explores how 'natural favourite' Elisabeth, 'charming' Lachlan and 'the brains' of the family James all vied for their position in their father's dynasty. Pictured from left: James,  Lachlan, their mother Ann, Elisabeth, and Rupert Murdooch

Will one of the middle three succeed Rupert? The new BBC documentary explores how 'natural favourite' Elisabeth, 'charming' Lachlan and 'the brains' of the family James all vied for their position in their father's dynasty. Pictured from left: James,  Lachlan, their mother Ann, Elisabeth, and Rupert Murdooch

Will one of the middle three succeed Rupert? The new BBC documentary explores how ‘natural favourite’ Elisabeth, ‘charming’ Lachlan and ‘the brains’ of the family James all vied for their position in their father’s dynasty. Pictured from left: James,  Lachlan, their mother Ann, Elisabeth, and Rupert Murdooch

ELISABETH  MURDOCH

Daughter Elisabeth appeared to be favourite to succeed her father at one time but the 51-year-old now runs a successful start-up Vertical Networks

Daughter Elisabeth appeared to be favourite to succeed her father at one time but the 51-year-old now runs a successful start-up Vertical Networks

Daughter Elisabeth appeared to be favourite to succeed her father at one time but the 51-year-old now runs a successful start-up Vertical Networks

The BBC documentary portrays Elisabeth as the ‘natural favourite’ to succeed her father. She’s described as a ‘smart and humble executive’, who the media mogul has often described as being most ‘similar’ to him. 

Mother-of-four Elisabeth, 51, is on her third marriage to English artist Keith Tyson after divorcing high-profile husband Matthew Freud, the great-grandson of Sigmund Freud, in 2014. 

The Sydney-born entrepreneur is currently experiencing success with Vertical Networks, a startup that provides app-based series that are produced to be viewed in cellular devices. 

LACHLAN MURDOCH

Hey Dad! Dubbed by many as the 'golden child', Lachlan Murdoch looks increasingly likely to inherit Murdoch's empire. The father-of-three holds major positions in the Murdoch conglomerate including  being co-chairman of News Corp and CEO of the Fox Corporation

Hey Dad! Dubbed by many as the 'golden child', Lachlan Murdoch looks increasingly likely to inherit Murdoch's empire. The father-of-three holds major positions in the Murdoch conglomerate including  being co-chairman of News Corp and CEO of the Fox Corporation

Hey Dad! Dubbed by many as the ‘golden child’, Lachlan Murdoch looks increasingly likely to inherit Murdoch’s empire. The father-of-three holds major positions in the Murdoch conglomerate including  being co-chairman of News Corp and CEO of the Fox Corporation

The middle child in the three siblings, Lachlan has been dubbed ‘charming’  and was even called ‘the Prince’. In his twenties, he was appointed Deputy CEO of News Limited, one of Australia’s largest media conglomerates. 

Lachlan became the CEO of Fox News in a reshuffle which put James on the outs of the day-to-day running of the family business in 2018.  

The relationship between Lachlan and his father has run hot and cold over the years, but that all changed back in 2014 when Murdoch’s older son returned to New York to work for News Corp. Now, he is the Chairman and CEO of the Fox Corporation.

JAMES  MURDOCH

A different path: despite being hugely loyal to his father, Rupert's youngest son is now largely out of the picture, running investment company Lupa Systems with his wife Kathryn

A different path: despite being hugely loyal to his father, Rupert's youngest son is now largely out of the picture, running investment company Lupa Systems with his wife Kathryn

A different path: despite being hugely loyal to his father, Rupert’s youngest son is now largely out of the picture, running investment company Lupa Systems with his wife Kathryn 

Youngest son James, 47, started his media career running rap label Rawkus Records, a dominant label in the underground hip-hop scene established by pals Brian Brater and Jarret Myer, with his father’s financial backing.

However, he was soon back in the fold and the youngest of the three siblings has arguably been the most loyal, staying by his father’s side for decades after joining News Corp shortly after he dropped out of Harvard.

Since his brother became CEO of Fox News in 2018 in a major reshuffle, James has worked at the helm of the investment fund Lupa Systems but retains a seat on the board of News Corp. Leaving Fox wasn’t an entirely bad move though, he became $2 billion richer thanks to his shares in the company.

In recent years, the father-of-three, married to climate activist wife Kathryn, has been increasingly vocal against Fox News and other News Corporation outlets including of coverage by the organisation on the Australian forest fires in 2019. 

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Speaking about that now famous night on Hayman Island, Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan, now 55, told of drinking into the early hours of the morning with Lachlan and James at the island retreat, and discovering that James, then 24, allegedly kept a secret gun for ‘lively negotiations’ with rap artists. 

‘I was then 28 and Lachlan and James were both in their mid 20s,’ said Piers. 

‘I got out to Australia and we went out one night. We were having dinner we ended up playing snooker in a snooker room, until about four or five in the morning and I thought they were fantastic, the sons. 

‘James was telling me he was running this rap label and it would get lively in negotiations with rappers, who would be armed. At one stage he told me he had gun under his desk just in case, but said “don’t tell Dad that”‘. 

By 1996, Rupert is still deciding which of his heirs apparent will eventually take over the family business, with daughter Elisabeth appearing to be the favourite to succeed him. 

The first episode of the series, The Kingmaker, focuses on family life in July 1995, when the mogul hosted a News Corporation summit in Australia on the family's private Hayman Island. (The family are pictured in the 1980s)

The first episode of the series, The Kingmaker, focuses on family life in July 1995, when the mogul hosted a News Corporation summit in Australia on the family's private Hayman Island. (The family are pictured in the 1980s)

The first episode of the series, The Kingmaker, focuses on family life in July 1995, when the mogul hosted a News Corporation summit in Australia on the family’s private Hayman Island. (The family are pictured in the 1980s)

Elisabeth was fast-tracked to head of all programming at BSkyB, and oversaw the company’s £12 million sponsorship of the troubled Millennium Dome. 

New York Times journalist Ken Auletta said: ‘When I profiled her, I thought she was the real deal.  She spotted shows in England and said to her father you have to put this on in America and she made him a lot of money. 

‘You could argue in a lot of ways she was the favourite, she would be the natural person to succeed Rupert Murdoch.’ 

Rupert had also bought James’ record label and Lachlan was running newspapers in Australia, it still seemed likely Elisabeth would become heir apparent of the media empire. 

Elisabeth, Lachlan and James are all present at the retreat, which saw the likes of Tony Blair and Piers Morgan in attendance. Pictured Rupert with second wife Anna and their children in 1987

Elisabeth, Lachlan and James are all present at the retreat, which saw the likes of Tony Blair and Piers Morgan in attendance. Pictured Rupert with second wife Anna and their children in 1987

Elisabeth, Lachlan and James are all present at the retreat, which saw the likes of Tony Blair and Piers Morgan in attendance. Pictured Rupert with second wife Anna and their children in 1987

Ken went on: ‘Murdoch has always created this sense of family first, I love my kids I want all my kids to work with me at the company, it’s always been a dream of his.   

‘My impression is Lachlan has the charming personality that James lacks, James has more bandwidth and brain power and Elisabeth has both charm and brains.’ 

However in 2001, Elisabeth married public relations executive Matthew Freud, the great-grandson of Sigmund Freud, who freely voiced ‘negative’ opinions on the Murdoch empire.    

Ken explained:  ‘I do remember sitting in the kitchen and Matthew was making sausages and Matthew was more dominant a figure. I was stunned at how freely he discussed Murdoch in a negative way and it was quite blunt. 

‘The relationship with Matthew was driving her away from her family and making them very unhappy.’ 

Elisabeth was fast-tracked to head of all programming at BSkyB, and oversaw the company's £12 million sponsorship of the troubled Millennium Dome. Pictured, Rupert and Elisabeth with Rupert's mother, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, in 1997

Elisabeth was fast-tracked to head of all programming at BSkyB, and oversaw the company's £12 million sponsorship of the troubled Millennium Dome. Pictured, Rupert and Elisabeth with Rupert's mother, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, in 1997

Elisabeth was fast-tracked to head of all programming at BSkyB, and oversaw the company’s £12 million sponsorship of the troubled Millennium Dome. Pictured, Rupert and Elisabeth with Rupert’s mother, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, in 1997 

In 2001, Elisabeth married public relations executive Matthew Freud (pictured in 1999) the great-grandson of Sigmund Freud

In 2001, Elisabeth married public relations executive Matthew Freud (pictured in 1999) the great-grandson of Sigmund Freud

In 2001, Elisabeth married public relations executive Matthew Freud (pictured in 1999) the great-grandson of Sigmund Freud 

Lachlan pictured leaving his father Rupert's apartment in London during the phone hacking scandal surrounding News International in 2011

Lachlan pictured leaving his father Rupert's apartment in London during the phone hacking scandal surrounding News International in 2011

Lachlan pictured leaving his father Rupert’s apartment in London during the phone hacking scandal surrounding News International in 2011

Lachlan's departure left James as the only Murdoch son still directly involved with the company's operations. James is pictured with former Prime Minister David Cameron in 2007

Lachlan's departure left James as the only Murdoch son still directly involved with the company's operations. James is pictured with former Prime Minister David Cameron in 2007

Lachlan’s departure left James as the only Murdoch son still directly involved with the company’s operations. James is pictured with former Prime Minister David Cameron in 2007 

Murdoch’s elder son Lachlan, formerly the Deputy Chief Operating Officer at the News Corporation and publisher of the New York Post, then became Murdoch’s suspected heir apparent. 

Elisabeth went on to act as a non-executive chairperson for Shine Group, a UK-based TV programme production company she had founded in 2001.  

In 1999, Rupert’s marriage to Anna Murdoch, the mother of Elisabeth, James and Lachlan dissolved, and 17 days after divorcing his second wife, the mogul married Chinese-born Wendi Deng, who was 37 years his junior. 

After having two children with Wendi, Grace and Chloe, Rupert made the shock revelation that all plans of retirement were off the table, and it wasn’t until 2015 he announced he would leave his post as CEO of 21st Century Fox.

Just 17 days after divorcing his second wife, the mogul married Chinese-born Wendi Deng (pictured) who was 37 years his junior

Just 17 days after divorcing his second wife, the mogul married Chinese-born Wendi Deng (pictured) who was 37 years his junior

Just 17 days after divorcing his second wife, the mogul married Chinese-born Wendi Deng (pictured) who was 37 years his junior 

In 2015, Murdoch passed the baton of leadership of 21st Century Fox Inc his sons James and Lachlan as CEO and chairman respectively while remaining co-executive chairman

In 2015, Murdoch passed the baton of leadership of 21st Century Fox Inc his sons James and Lachlan as CEO and chairman respectively while remaining co-executive chairman

In 2015, Murdoch passed the baton of leadership of 21st Century Fox Inc his sons James and Lachlan as CEO and chairman respectively while remaining co-executive chairman

In July 2005, following a reported disagreements with Rupert over management,  Lachlan resigned from his executive posts at the global media company. 

Lachlan’s departure left James as the only Murdoch son still directly involved with the company’s operations, however Lachlan agreed to remain on the News Corporation’s board 

Elisabeth had enjoyed independent success, in conjunction with her second husband, and in 2015 her father’s 21st Century Fox merged its Shine division with ApolloGlobal Management’s Endemol and Core Media production houses. 

In 2015, Murdoch passed the baton of leadership of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc his sons James and Lachlan as CEO and chairman respectively while remaining co-executive chairman. 

Rise of The Murdoch Dynasty is currently airing on BBC2 and the BBC iPlayer

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